fictionalize you life

We can go wherever we please and everything depends upon how near you stand to me

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interviews, conversations

Sur le dernier album Boxer, en renfort après le piano, la guitare, la batterie, une trompette arrive après deux minutes trente cinq pour faire tomber les réserves, rallier les hésitants et convaincre de l’excellence de The National.

A Reims devant un rideau de fils scintillants, le groupe a joué devant un public chaviré de l’intérieur, accompagné par l’orchestrateur du disque, Padma Newsome, violoniste, maître d’œuvre d’un groupe de musique de chambre expérimental et passionnant, Clogs, où officie aussi Bryce Dessner.

The National demande qu’on prenne le temps d’apprendre à connaître sa musique, comme un puzzle, un gigantesque pêle mêle à voir d’abord de loin, avant d’en découvrir les détails au fur et à mesure que l’on s’approche, heureux de ne jamais en voir la fin. Le groupe a donné à la Blogothèque un de ses concerts à emporter les plus réussis, et Matt Berninger le chanteur parle ici de rêves devenus réalité, de Nick Cave, d’être sombre et drôle, de Gatsby le Magnifique, et de quelques autres morceaux du puzzle.

Who’s the inspiration for the Californian character in “All the wine”? And since we’re in Reims, what’s your favourite wine?

The California line is about self delusion. “I’m a perfect piece of ass like every Californian”, I don’t know if it’s a compliment.

There’s something about this cliché, the true image of people in California being healthy and tanned. The line is about when you drink wine you sometimes have grandiose ideas, you feel better about yourself. It’s funny how after a couple of glasses of wine you can feel like you’re from California, beautiful and muscular and tanned.

I don’t have a sophisticated palate for fancy wines. We’ve been to Alsace Lorraine. In that area they serve certain wines in a little glass that has a green stem. They’re my favourites. White wine. For some reason red wine makes me tired and gives me a headache but white wine makes me really happy.

Will you be playing in new places on this tour? Do you have enough time to visit cities?

We played in Portsmouth, Sheffield. We’ll play in Turkey, in Istanbul and in Moscow.

We rarely visit the city. On tour you come in the afternoon, sometimes in the morning but you’re at the club. By the time you set up there’s very little time to see anything unless you have a day off or unless you play two nights in a row. We don’t have many days off.

What do you do in your free time?

When you have a day off you get so tired that you just have to unplug your brain and try to get as much down time and quiet time as possible. For me walking around and seeing the sights is not easy.

If we have free time the truth is I will usually hopefully find a hotel and watch TV. I waste my days off… I get really tired so on my days off so I usually buy a bad movie. I watched “Transformers” the other day. It’s pathetic. I think our next records will be about robots from outer space.

What’s your favourite place on earth?

I like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, not far from my apartment. It’s a really big park which was designed by the same guy who designed Central Park. In New York there aren’t that many open spaces with trees and this is a beautiful park. It’s one of my favourite places on earth.

Do you listen to music in the tour bus?

No. We’re doing something we’ve never done before. We’re trying to write new songs while on tour. We’ve been on tour for 2 weeks and we’re halfway through one song. So I’ve been listening to a lot of that.

I don’t listen to a lot of new music. I would buy a lot more new records before we were in a band, before we started touring so much and playing so much.

Now it’s kind of a bummer, I miss it but we spend so much time in clubs or playing music that I try to turn it off just for ear fatigue. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I’m 36.

That is a problem when something you love so much becomes what you do everyday. I’m grateful for that, I’m very lucky and I don’t want to do anything else. I’m so happy I’m doing this but it becomes too much sometimes.

Rock’n’roll music… It’s always been my dream to be on stage. Then once your dream comes true, you miss having the dream a little bit.

I’m very happy but I do miss listening to music and fantasising about sinking inside the music. I do with our own music but I don’t listen to a lot of new music because my head hurts too much. I don’t want to have a headache. I want to save it for when I go on stage. I want to get into that zone and pretend that I haven’t even heard these songs before and I’ve never sung these songs before. I can do that surprisingly. This year we’ve done about 150 shows, maybe more, but I enjoyed it every time. I’m afraid if I listen to too much music and get on stage my head will already be ringing.

Do you listen to “happy records” when you’re feeling down?

When I’m feeling down I usually like to listen to sad records. I think when you’re down, celebrating that and indulging that and sort of just diving in your own misery is actually really really fun. It’s one of the most enjoyable things to wallow in your own obsessions and sadness or whatever. So when I’m in a really bad mood I like to listen to sad music. It makes me feel much better.

Our music has been described as being very dark. I’m sure it is, in respect to other pop music but I always think of our songs as being very optimistic, not depressing, morose or sad.

I don’t think sad music makes you sad. Diving into that sort of dark things makes you laugh at it. To get in front of it, to be on top of it and to own it, at least to feel connected to someone else feeling down. Take Nick Cave, Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe, Neil Young. They dive into the sad dark things. They dig deep into that stuff and then hold it up and make it beautiful.

I think when you’re in a not happy time, it’s fun to go and dig that stuff up, hold it up in the air and celebrate it because it makes you go past it. It makes you put a bow around it, put it in your pocket and move on.

During the show today the ending of the songs were noisier than on the album.

It’s part of playing in front of a bunch of people. Live, the songs explode.

I don’t think of our songs being dark and light. I think of them being purple or orange. They’re just different combination of ideas and moods. Sometimes it’s sad but the sadness is fun. It’s a fun kind of sad.

What’s your favourite Smiths song?

”Bigmouth strikes again” is one of my favourites, not necessarily for the lyrics but it’s unbelievably catchy. The Smiths were the first time I listened to a record and paid attention to the weird goofy ways of talking about things. The music was unbelievably great. Morrissey was able to sing about things that were so awkward and so funny and expose himself.

After that I listened to Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave.

Nick Cave has become my favourite lyricist. What I like about him is he can be brutal, disgusting and hilarious. Take Grinderman, the video for “No pussy blues” has a wolf mounting a girl at a party! This is so funny and so ridiculous.

He goes there and he puts away all his defences. He doesn’t try to stay behind some image. He likes to just go ahead and be ridiculous. He’s one of the most fearless performers and writers I’ve ever seen. That’s a thing I find fascinating and that’s why he’s a hero of mine. He absolutely will do anything that he feels might be fun. He digs into the sad stuff.

He kicks himself in the head in a puddle of blood in the song if he feels like it but then he’ll lift himself up and he’ll be riding a pony through a rainbow in the same song. He’s just funny and awesome.

Are there any fictional characters in books that inspire you?

I’m not sure. There are bits and pieces in certain books that do resonate and are stuck in my mind.

In the song “Gospel” there’s a scene which was a little bit inspired by the scene in the Great Gatsby when he goes out and sees the green light in the harbour. It’s towards the beginning of the book, when you first are introduced to Gatsby. There’s this moment when he holds out his arms and he’s looking at the green light across the harbour which is where he knows Daisy lives and the narrator sees him do this.

In “Gospel” there are two people holding out their arms over a swimming pool and there’s rainbow light.

When I wrote this I was thinking about the Great Gatsby. It’s not the same thing but there’s something about that character thinking he’s alone and doing something odd, like when you see somebody through a window, the kind of odd things people do when they don’t think they’re being watched.

There are lots of little things that I find, that I pick out and try to steal, sometimes from TV or movies.

“Fake Empire” makes me think of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Audrey Hepburn.

There are a couple of songs on this records where I purposely was trying to use some imagery that was kind of surreal, cinematic and glittering. There’s “blue birds” and there’s “diamond slippers”, they’re uncommon and almost like fairytale stuff.

In “Start a war” the lyrics say “do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up and leave”. What is “it”?

You know it’s probably the stuff you don’t say. The stuff you maybe don’t talk about but still exists. Everybody knows it, you just bury it without actually making it less potent. It doesn’t go away. The safe behind a painting is a cliché.

Who’s your favourite monster?

The grape ape. He’s a cartoon character, a giant purple ape.

I like Herman Munster who’s the patriarch of the Munsters, a TV show from the 70s in America about a family based on Frankenstein. It was a family of misfits and monster people who lived in the suburbs. It was played by Fred Gwynn who’s also a famous actor from the 50s. He was brilliant because he was a really good monster.

If you could live one day in somebody else’s shoes, who would you chose?

I don’t know. I like my life. Maybe Ricky Gervais, if I lived in his shoes for one day I couldn’t screw up anymore than he does everyday. I’d be afraid to live in somebody else’s shoes for one day. I wouldn’t know how to do it.

The picture on the sleeve of Bower was taken a friend’s wedding. What are the best 3 records to play at a wedding party?

Bob Seeger’s Greatest Hits


The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever

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